President Obama will award the National Medal of Arts today to nine well known individuals and one pioneering dance festival in the White House’s annual celebration of the arts in America. He will also award the National Humanities Medal to 10 literary titans and other scholars.
The arts medal will be presented to actress Meryl Streep, pianist Van Cliburn, musician Quincy Jones, jazz musician Sonny Rollins, singer James Taylor, theater producer/playwright Robert Brustein, poet Donald Hall, author Harper Lee, and sculptor Mark di Suvero. In addition, the president will honor Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, America’s longest running international dance fest, held each summer in the Berkshire mountains in western Massachusetts.
“This is fantastic,” said an excited Quincy Jones on his arrival to D.C. “It’s the highest honor you can get — this and the Kennedy Center Honors, which Van and I both received in 2001.” Jones said he was looking forward to greeting President Obama, whom he first met in his own living room six years ago when fellow Chicagoans the Obamas and Oprah Winfrey dropped by.
Jones says he continues to travel more than 200,000 miles per year to advance the cause of American music, especially jazz, and other pet causes. For example, he says he’ll be headed to the Middle East later this spring along with 80 singers to perform a concert for unity.
Recipients of the humanities medal were writer/academic Daniel Aaron, writer Bernard Bailyn, scholar Jacques Barzun, poet/novelist Wendell E. Berry, literary critic Roberto Gonzalez Echevarría, humanities exec Stanley Nider Katz, novelist Joyce Carol Oates, biographer Arnold Rampersad, novelist Philip Roth, and author Gordon Wood.
Lee, Streep, Aaron and Barzun were not expected to attend the ceremony, the White House said.